For the family man, an annual dilemma is which side of the family to visit for the holidays. This is especially problematic if you don't live close to either. That arrangement has its advantages, but simplifying holiday travel isn't one of them.
Naturally, you would rather visit your family. You feel comfortable there. You are served the same dishes you learned to love as a child. No one looks at you funny when you pass gas or asks you to sleep on the porch.
Nevertheless, you have an obligation to your wife and children to visit her family at least as often as you visit your own. Remember, your wife's family members are your children's blood relatives, which explains why they behave so strangely at times.
One way to achieve balance in family visiting is to have some sort of prearranged schedule. This can be as basic as a simple rotation system, alternating visits to her family and yours. Or, if you prefer, it can involve arcane formulae, the Farmer's Almanac, and calls to the Psychic Hotline.
The drawback is that your schedule is bound to be interrupted by some "special" occasion. While eating Thanksgiving dinner with your wife's family, for example, you learn that Aunt Marge will be coming for Christmas. "Oh, honey, we just have to have Christmas with my family this year. I haven't seen Aunt Marge since her facelift," your wife says, batting her eyes.
You sit there wondering if her family serves eggplant parmesan instead of turkey for Christmas dinner, too.
Another possibility is to have set destinations for specific holidays: Thanksgiving with your folks, Christmas with hers, and so on. This allows for the development of family traditions, so that your children know exactly what to look forward to when spending Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa So-and-so's. (That would be your in-laws. Your parents may be many things, but they are definitely not so-and-sos).
Sooner or later, though, either your mom or hers is going to say something like, "It's a shame you can't be here for Christmas this year."
Among the many possible responses to such blatant manipulation, here are two you should probably squelch: "We've been over this a hundred times, Mom" (if it's your mother speaking) and "Yes, but not as big a shame as the fact that we're here right now" (if it's your mother-in-law).
Instead, you should smile winningly and say, "Yes, it is a shame, but we'll be back for (insert holiday). Meanwhile, you're welcome to squeeze your fat, retired, lard butts into a car and come visit us anytime." OK, you might want to edit that sentence a little.
In any case, the ultimate solution to the holiday travel dilemma is to let family members come to you -- especially those who don't have small children at home. Who knows, maybe they'll even bring the eggplant parmesan.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter@rjenkinsgdp.